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"The Story of Sadie Frowne, A Brooklyn Sweatshop Girl"

Sadie Frowne's story is in many ways typical of the immigrant worker in New York's Lower East Side.  Her story was originally published the New York Independent, a reform-minded newspaper, and later collected into the 1906 book The Lives of Undistinguished Americans as Told by Themselves.  The book was remarkable in a time when most biographies or memoirs were by and about political leaders, prominent writers, or wealthy industrialists.

When I was a little more than ten years of age my father died. He was a good man and a steady worker, and we never knew what it was to be hungry while he lived. After he died troubles began... we fell behind in the rent and mother kept thinking more and more that we should have to leave Poland and go across the sea to America where we heard it was much easier to make money. Mother wrote to Aunt Fanny, who lived in New York, and told her how hard it was to live in Poland, and Aunt Fanny advised her to come and bring me.

Aunt Fanny and her husband met us at the gate of this country and were very good to us, and soon I had a place to live out (domestic servant), while my mother got work in a factory making white goods.

I was only a little over thirteen years of age and a greenhorn, so I received $9 a month and board and lodging, which I thought was doing well. Mother, who, as I have said, was very clever, made $9 a week on white goods, which means all sorts of underclothing, and is high class work.

But mother had a very gay disposition. She liked to go around and see everything, and friends took her about New York at night and she caught a bad cold and coughed and coughed. She really had hasty consumption, but she didn't know it, and I didn't know it, and she tried to keep on working, but it was no last she died and I was left alone. I had saved money while out at service, but mother's sickness and funeral swept it all away and now I had to begin all over again.

So I went to work in Allen street (Manhattan) in what they call a sweatshop, making skirts by machine. I was new at the work and the foreman scolded me a great deal. I lived at this time with a girl named Ella, who worked in the same factory and made $5 a week. We had the room all to ourselves, paying $1.50 a week for it, and doing light housekeeping.

We did our cooking on an oil stove, and lived well, as this list of our expenses for one week will show:


Tea $0.06
Cocoa .10
Bread and rolls .40
Canned vegetables .20
Potatoes .10
Milk .21
Fruit .20
Butter .15
Meat .60
Fish .15
Laundry .25

Total $2.42

Add rent 1.50

Grand total $3.92

Of course, we could have lived cheaper, but we are both fond of good things and felt that we could afford them.

Some people who buy at the last of the market, when the men with the carts want to go home, can get things very cheap, but they are likely to be stale, and we did not often do that with fish, fresh vegetables, fruit, milk or meat. Things that kept well we did buy that way and got good bargains, and we found a factory where we could buy the finest broken crackers for 3 cents a pound, and another place where we got broken candy for 10 cents a pound.

It cost me $2 a week to live, and I had a dollar a week to spend on clothing and pleasure, and saved the other dollar.

Source | "The Story of a Sweatshop Girl,"Independent, 25 September 1902, 2279-82; from Digital History,
Creator | Sadie Frowne
Item Type | Newspaper/Magazine
Cite This document | Sadie Frowne, “"The Story of Sadie Frowne, A Brooklyn Sweatshop Girl",” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 10, 2023,

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